The Trump administration has frozen grants and contracts by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to ProPublica, and blocked employees from providing updates on this change via social media. This could have big effects on the agency’s budget and severely undercut its efforts.
In an email obtained by ProPublica, one EPA contractor writes that: “The new EPA administration has asked that all contract and grant awards be temporarily suspended, effective immediately. Until we receive further clarification, this includes task orders and work assignments.”
Also, employees have been banned from providing updates to reporters or on social media. The internal memo specifies that no press releases will go out to external audiences, there will be “no blog messages” and media requests will be carefully screened. (Interestingly, the Department of Energy, a fellow federal agency, recently released new guidelines that specifically protects contractors and ensures that they can state their personal opinions.)
For now, other details about the frozen grants still unclear. We don’t know whether the freeze affects all existing contracts — worth about $6.4 billion — or just new grants and contracts. The move is likely to be widely felt, though; in 2013, the EPA awarded $9.6 billion in grants and about $1.4 billion in contracts. Last year, the total budget was $8.6 billion, with the money for grants and contracts given to organizations at every level, from local nonprofits to state governments.
Myron Ebell, who led Trump’s EPA transition, confirmed the freeze. He said was just so the new administration could “make sure to look” at regulations and grants first, but such a move is unusual.
Meanwhile, Trump’s pick for EPA head is Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has sued the agency he’s been tapped to lead.
Other actions that Trump took on Monday include instituting a broad hiring freeze for federal government employees. The move to freeze contracts and grants is at least consistent with Trump’s earlier actions, such as being a climate change denier himself and threatening to dismantle the EPA entirely. The good news is that presidents have tried to dismantle the EPA before and doing so is thankfully not that easy. The bad news is that this move seems to be a solid first step toward doing so.
The EPA did not immediately respond to The Verge’s request for comment.
Update 1/22/17 12:51 p.m.: This post has been updated to include information on the social media ban.